The point of going to see a documentary at a movie theatre is to blend entertainment with getting some insight into the documentary’s topic, right? Divorce Corp. is neither entertaining nor insightful. But it probably is not surprising to hear me express that point of view, since Divorce Corp. is meant to be an exposé of the divorce industry, and I am a divorce attorney.
I am not, however, frightened at the notion of people attending the movie in droves – not only because this kind of movie never attracts droves. The movie’s premises are correct. Custody evaluators’ recommendations should not be bought (and the evaluators should not be porn stars). Family court judges should be impartial (and they should not physically abuse their own children).
Personally, I was pleased that the closest reference to the great State of Minnesota was mention of the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory). My plans not to practice in Texas, Indiana, Tennessee and California will not change. The fact is – while I know there are threads of greed, destruction and bad faith that exist in any state – in twenty years of family law practice, I have zero first-hand knowledge of a custody evaluator’s recommendation being bought, or a family court judge giving preferential treatment to a crony. On the contrary. Anyone involved in family law who would engage in the spotlighted conduct portrayed in the movie would have a horrendous reputation – in Minnesota at least. More importantly, the conduct that earns a good reputation – that is necessarily the mainstay of real-life family law – has no role in the movie, not even a cameo appearance.
Like almost every other movie ever produced, this documentary does not deal in the dullness of real life. The closest it comes to doing so is interviewing folks from Iceland and Sweden, where apparently every last citizen who was ever divorced is living happily ever after, having spent more on their groceries than on their divorce. While it would have been more insightful to compare the “ugliest” American divorces to the “ugliest” European divorces, that wouldn’t sell tickets, garner much attention, and certainly wouldn’t fulfill the purpose of the producers of throwing the American divorce industry under the bus. So we are left with a comparison of the worst of the worst American divorce cases set against the dull, uneventful, amicable divorces of Europe. (I hate to break it to the producers, and the viewers, but there are, in fact, amicable divorces occurring in the U.S., and contested divorces occurring in Europe.)
For what it’s worth, after watching the movie and then returning to work the following day(which happened to include a meeting with a custody evaluator), the movie did make me reflect on the real-life work that divorce professionals do in this community. But so do the continuing education courses, family law conferences, and consult group meetings that I attend on a regular basis. Long before the producers embarked on this project, divorce professionals were being taught how to carry out family justice. The movie intends to mobilize reform without doing anything to suggest what that reform might be. How should we prevent ugly cases from happening? What new form of family justice will supplant the current system, and make happy campers of all of the movie’s interviewees?
To a great extent Minnesota has made great advances to improve family justice in the last ten to fifteen years. These days, most family courts engage in case management focused on resolution outside the courtroom. The processes include an Initial Case Management Conference (conducted by the judge in an informal, non-adversarial setting) and Early Neutral Evaluations (in which child-related or financial issues are not just mediated, but evaluated by neutrals). My day-to-day practice involves more Early Neutral Evaluations than custody evaluations; more mediations than trials; and out-of-court settlements that outnumber divorce decrees issued by the judge by more than 10 to 1. If the producers had provided any airtime to what family law reform should look like, it would (or should) include coverage of how family law is currently practiced in Minnesota.
My recommendation, if you are considering a viewing of Divorce Corp. at the multiplex? August: Osage County and Saving Mr. Banks.